Now that was test cricket as it’s meant to be: a pitch with something for everyone and a day of oscillating fortunes. This is shaping up to be very watchable test indeed. Unlike Newlands.
The first session was annoying to say the least. England just didn’t bowl well. Our line wasn’t quite right and we bowled a little too short as well – a throwback to the final days of David Saker’s coaching stint.
Thankfully we regrouped at lunch. Otis had a word in a few ears and our fortunes transformed. False shots appeared, the Saffers looked rattled, and wickets fell regularly as South Africa’s soft underbelly – that’s anyone who bats below de Villiers thus far – threw their wickets away. Two were caught at deep square-leg and there was even a daft run out. Happy days.
However, just as it looked like England might seize control of the match, the lower order wagged and England ran out of steam (it’s tough bowling fast at altitude). Rabada and Morris played their shots and momentum shifted. In my opinion 267-7 is a very competitive score.
South Africa’s taller, faster bowlers should be a handful on this surface. There’s some lateral movement, a hint of pace (although not too much yet), but most importantly it’s occasionally leaping up off a length. Morkel and Viljoen will be licking their lips. They’ll look to hit the splice and target the gloves.
However, this pitch still offers something for batters too. It’s not impossible to score runs. South Africa will need to bowl better than England did. Although Finn bowled extremely well – he bowled the ball of the day to dismiss Amla caught behind – Broad was strangely off colour (perhaps a result of the stomach bug that’s going around). Regular readers know that I rate Broad highly but he’s not effective at all unless he’s in good rhythm.
Oddly enough this pitch is offering a little bit of turn too. But that shouldn’t come into play tomorrow. South Africa will hit England with pace – and try to hit us hard. Hales and Compton will need to play extremely well.
I suspect Cook will be the key wicket. I’m a tad concerned about his form – a concern heightened by reports that he’s not looking good in the nets either. The last thing he needs is another prolonged spell of technical difficulties. He’s too important. Hopefully my pessimism is unfounded.
As I said yesterday this test match is a very important one for England. Are we actually improving or not? If we can polish off the tail tomorrow morning, and our batsmen can collectively weather what I expect to be a trial by fire, I think we can answer in the affirmative.
Let’s not think about the alternative scenario.